The UN must change the way its human rights institutions are run to ensure that oppressed peoples — and not just their governments — are heard, an Iranian Nobel laureate urged on Wednesday.
Shirin Ebadi, winner of the Nobel Peace Prize in 2003, said in a lecture in Geneva that civil society and non-governmental organizations should be given a greater role in the UN’s Human Rights Council and other bodies.
“The scales of human rights have lost their balance,” she said in reference to the current make-up of the Human Rights Council, whose members include many countries in the Arab world regularly accused of human rights abuses.
“How can one expect countries that continuously and repeatedly abuse human rights to condemn others who do the same thing?” she asked in a lecture to mark the 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
“It is time for us to put our trust in the people, and for the UN to bring in the real representatives of the people in the form of civil society,” she said.
The Iranian lawyer also said the UN should do more to promote economic as well as civil and political rights, and proposed a new international convention to eradicate poverty.
Under such a convention, states would be encouraged to cut their military spending to no more than their education and health budgets.
Those who did not heed this would be unable to get loans from the World Bank, Ebadi said.
Ebadi said some people might find these proposals idealistic but urged her audience: “Our challenge here today is to think in terms of dreams while acting realistically.”